Joe Tibbetts is the CEO Boilerhouse Media Group and managing editor Healthcare Innovation Monitor. Joe has advised many government, NHS and commercial healthsector organisations on digital communications


Fighting fire, and health inequalities, in the West Midlands

Sir Michael Marmot a world authority on health inequality introduces our FrontLine Story documentary on how the West Midlands Fire Service are helping improve health and wellbeing across the community?

Sir Michael Marmot is a world authority on health inequality. In this five minute InformationDaily.TV programme, Sir Michael speaks of his amazement at finding out about the work of the West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) in improving health and wellbeing in the community. The frontline carers themselves talk about their work now celebrated in the WMFS report Improving Lives to Save Lives, published in November 2014.

As Watch Commander Sam Burton explains, fire safety work frequently brings officers into contact with people living in poor conditions in deprived communities, including those suffering from poor mental and physical health. Working in close collaboration with people like Amy Westwood from Age UK, and making the most of their special and trusted position in the community, fire officers are in the perfect position to deliver interventions that really do make a difference.

‘Improving Lives to Save Lives” is the strapline adopted by West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) to promote the work that they do in the community to reduce health inequalities. 

The brigade, whose 1,322 firefighters serve a population of 2.7 million, has embraced the findings of Sir Michael Marmot in committing to tackle health inequalities and disadvantage which have clear links to a person’s risk from fire in the home and other vulnerabilities.

Sir Michael was speaking at the #improve2save conference held at WMFS headquarters 18 November. The conference set out to raise awareness about the wider work of the fire and rescue service, and the value to the public health sector of working in partnership with the fire service. Delegates heard that emergency response is only one of the many ways that firefighters save lives.

Sir Michael has endorsed WMFS for their #improve2save work.

During his keynote speech on 18 November, Sir Michael gave an update on progress since the publication of his report “Fair Society, Healthy Lives” in 2010. WMFS provided the business case for it being a credible and valuable public health partner, with three serving firefighters presenting case studies to describe the lengths that they go to in support of vulnerable members of the community. 

WMFS has a service delivery model that is centred on maintaining a five-minute attendance at emergencies where there is a threat to life. But, on top of their response work and daily operational training, WMFS’s wholetime firefighters spend around 40 per cent of their time on prevention-based and educational work – stopping emergencies before they even happen, often in partnership with other agencies and sectors. WMFS describes this as ‘upstream fire-fighting’. 

Such has been the success of prevention and protection work over the last ten years that, currently, less than 10 per cent of a firefighter’s time is spent on emergency response. Meanwhile, Fire Safety Officers provide advice and support to business and commercial premises including hotels and Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) to make buildings as safe as possible in the event of fire.  They target the most vulnerable businesses and, where necessary, will also enforce fire regulations to bring about change.

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